AMSTERDAM – In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, a thief or thieves took advantage of widespread museum closures and reduced security measures to steal an early painting by the Dutch master Vincent van Gogh.
Whether it was a stroke of chance or intentional, the artwork happened to be stolen on the anniversary of the distinguished artist’s birthday.
On loan from the Groninger Museum in northern Holland, the painting was on display at the Singer Laren, a museum 20 miles southeast of Amsterdam. It was the only work stolen in the burglary.
The front glass entrance to the Singer Laren was shattered in an early morning break-in on March 30. No suspect or suspects have been identified by the police.
The stolen work, “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884,” is an oil painting Van Gogh created when he was 30 years old, only six years before his death in 1890. It depicts a figure standing before a street and garden façade in Nuenen, a town in the Netherlands where the artist lived with his father.
The Post-Impressionist painter contributed fundamentally to modern art with a total of about 2,100 works, including approximately 860 oil paintings of landscapes, portraits and still lifes. His works are celebrated for their boldness in color and expressionistic brushwork.
The 136-year-old painting’s estimated value is between 1 million and 6 million euros (roughly $1.2 million to $6.5 million). Van Gogh’s paintings are some of the most expensive pieces ever sold.
The stolen Van Gogh was the only one by the artist at the Singer Laren and attracted more than 5,000 visitors per day before the pandemic struck the Netherlands and Europe.
“They knew what they were doing, going straight for the famous master,” Jan Rudolph de Lorm, the museum’s director, said in a press conference.
But De Lorm does not believe the thief or thieves knew it would have been the Dutch great’s 167th birthday.
“It’s just a strange coincidence, synchronicity – that sometimes happens in life,” he said.
The burglary came at a time of closures of museums and other artistic gathering places across Europe and the United States, part of a massive shutdown aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19. All museums in the Netherlands closed on March 13.
“I feel enormous anger and sadness,” De Lorm said. “Because especially in these dark days that we are in, I feel so strongly that art is here to comfort us, to inspire us and to heal us.”
While many of the world’s best-known and visited cultural institutions have temporarily locked their doors, some museums were quick to participate in the shift to virtual learning and experiences. Museums are providing art lovers with the opportunity to explore cultural images and information from home through immersive digital experiences and augmented realities.
Over 1,200 leading museums and archives partnered with Google’s Arts & Culture platform to show exhibits online and offer virtual tours. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Tate Modern in London and the Musee D’Orsay in Paris are among the prominent names on the platform.
MoMA is one institution to offer nine free online courses where visitors can hear directly from artists and designers. Attendees are among a community of learners with unlimited enrollment, working in collaboration with online learning software Coursera.
The classes feature numerous topics, such as “What Is Contemporary Art,” “Seeing Through Photographs” and “In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting.” Each course is free of charge unless students choose to pay for a certificate of completion.
This digitized shift to virtual experiences brings the museum to the visitor, for those who are just curious and those who are die-hard art lovers.